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Career development 2.0

In a rapidly changing job market, employees are constantly looking for new challenges and opportunities. They want to explore their skills, discover potential occupations that match their capabilities and identify relevant training paths to pursue their desired career. The Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training (VDAB) believes in the power of data and AI to support both employees and employers in this change of mindset.

Today, VDAB does more than bring together supply and demand on the labour market. They help employers fill vacancies, support employees and employers in the context of training and assist all professionally active Flemish citizens in optimising their careers. “Not easy in a tight labour market that is also constantly changing,” says Karolien Scheerlinck, Manager at the VDAB AI Centre of Excellence. “Fortunately, in recent years we have increasingly been able to count on the support of data and AI.”

Why have data and AI become so important to VDAB in recent years?

Karolien: “The number of VDAB’s clients has increased significantly in the last three years. In fact, since 2020, VDAB has been tasked with becoming a career director in addition to focusing on activation. That means that, in addition to activating non-working jobseekers, we help every professionally active Flemish citizen optimise his or her career and assist employers in their search for the best talent.”

From around 200,000 customers to around four million, that is a big increase. To continue offering quality services with the same number of employees, it became clear that committing to AI and the multitude of data VDAB has at its disposal was the best solution.

How can data and AI help organisations optimise their HR policies?

AI makes it possible to process large amounts of data and look for structures and patterns. “At VDAB, we transform these into models and applications that support our services,” Karolien continues. “I am thinking, for example, of providing personalised advice on training courses or job vacancies and developing a number of powerful self-service AI products such as ‘Jobbereik’, ‘Competentiecheck’ and ‘Oriënt’.

AI and data are there to support VDAB staff, citizens and employers. They are certainly not a substitute.”

Both private and public companies can use our tools to optimise their internal HR policies. The tight labour market makes it difficult to recruit the right talent, which is why they are increasingly turning to internal mobility. Thanks to our AI tools, organisations can, among other things, gain insight into the current competences of their employees, how these relate to open vacancies and which training courses are possible to redirect employees to within the company.”

VDAB strongly believes in data and AI to boost careers. What about the human factor?

Karolien: “It is never our intention, and it never will be, to completely replace the human factor. After all, 100% reliance on data is not without risk. The data at our disposal may be biased or not representative of reality. As a result, AI models may learn incorrect patterns and thus also lead to inaccurate predictions.

In addition, as a public organisation, VDAB also has the responsibility to provide quality services to its customers. We want to be a ‘trusted advisor’ of the labour market and thus also want to avoid any privacy and ethical risks that may arise from the use of data and AI. To guard against this, we are strongly committed to bias analysis and last year we set up an Ethics Council, which, as an independent entity, provides advice on the responsible and ethical use of data and AI. This Council consists of both VDAB and external members with diverse expertise and experience. Reliability, transparency, honesty and ensuring privacy are central to this.

So, automatic decision-making based on data or AI is not carried out at our organisation. Models and data are there to support VDAB employees, citizens and employers. They are certainly not a substitute. The final decision still lies with the user who can interpret data in a critical way.”